Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) President Dan Montgomery wants the Chicago Board of Education to reject new charter school proposals that are currently under consideration by the cash-strapped school district. Proposals for as many as 13 new alternative and traditional charter schools could go up for a vote at next week's Chicago school board meeting.
Montgomery addressed the issue while speaking with reporters Tuesday after his speech before the City Club of Chicago on the topic of "school choice."
"I think they should be rejected," he said of the pending Chicago charter school applications. "I think they've got to get their house in order first and make sure that ... every other school in the city is getting all the things it needs before they start talking about diverting more resources to charter schools."
By law, CPS has to open up its application process for new charter schools each year. The district, however, is not required to approve the applications it receives.
If the Chicago Board of Education were to reject new charter school applications, charter firms could appeal the denials to the Illinois State Charter School Commission. The commission has the power to overrule local school boards if they turn down new charter school proposals.
"I think we should abolish or significantly change the charter-operator-run charter commission and restore the decision making to local control, local school boards," Montgomery told the crowd at the City Club of Chicago event, held at Maggiano's Little Italy Banquet Hall at 111 W. Grand Ave.
IFT supports HB 397, proposed state legislation that would revoke the Illinois State Charter School Commission's power to override school boards on charter application denials.
Charter proponents say the schools, which are independently run but receive public money and often raise private funds through foundations and philanthropists, provide families with alternative school choices.
First proposed in 1988 by then American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker, charter schools were originally intended to be independent, alternative school models that would provide teacher autonomy.
Charter opponents say the schools have since been hijacked by corporate interests and control has been shifted away from neighborhoods, Local School Councils, teachers and unions to charter operators.
"I can't tell you one educational innovation that came from the charter movement, and that's supposed to be the purpose of it," Montgomery told the crowd. "I'm not saying there isn't great things happening at some good charters, but it's not doing what we should use it to do in education."
Charters, Montgomery added, do not perform better academically than traditional public schools. Among other concerns, charters "create financial peril for the regular public school system," he said.
Montgomery was not the only one to speak out on the issue of charters on Tuesday.
Pro-charter school protesters made their voices heard at a morning rally outside Chicago Ald. Roderick Sawyer's (6th) ward office. They were there to protest against a charter school moratorium resolution the alderman introduced last month.
The proposed resolution calls for a one-year statewide moratorium on the opening of new charter schools.
Despite the resolution being backed by 42 of Chicago's 50 aldermen, the measure hit a roadblock in the council earlier this month after the education committee's chairman Ald. Will Burns (4th), a charter school proponent, decided against bringing it up for debate.
"It's unfortunate that this has become about politics and not about how to improve our schools in our communities. This moratorium affects every community in the city," Lucy Reese, a parent and Charter Parents United board member, said in a statement after the protest. "Although the resolution has not passed through the education committee, parents said they will continue to advocate for free, high-quality, public schools and let Chicago's elected officials know families deserve quality options for their children."
Charter school advocates also had a big reason to celebrate last month. The federal government announced that Illinois won a more than $42 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to support the creation of new public charter schools across the state over five years.
The Illinois Network Of Charter Schools applauded the award, calling it an "illustration of the strength of Illinois charter public schools."
"INCS is excited to collaborate with the Illinois State Board of Education to create more high-quality public school options for Illinois families," the group said in a statement after the grant announcement. "Illinois charter public schools currently serve over 63,000 students, but thousands more continue to languish on waitlists. This grant provides hope to the thousands of students waiting to attend an excellent public school option that best fits their family's needs, and it confirms that there is a growing demand for charter public schools in Illinois."
Montgomery, who stressed the importance of improving education funding for all public schools in the state during his speech, responded to arguments that charters provide quality educational options in communities.
"The evidence is clear that charters overall are not doing a better job than regular public schools, and in many cases they're doing a worse job," he told reporters. "I think those parents want those schools because they don't see a better option in the neighborhood school, because the neighborhood schools have not been invested in."